Convicted Priest (75) Pleads Guilty to Further Sex Assaults

The Irish Times
February 27, 2010

A JUDGE said yesterday he wanted to hear from a more senior member of the Franciscan order before passing sentence in relation to sex abuse at Gormanston College in the 1970s.

Convicted sex offender Fr Ronald Bennett (75) gave a schoolboy “sex education lessons” during which he told him how to seduce girls before removing his trousers and underwear, a circuit court judge was told yesterday.

Bennett was jailed in 2007 for 2? years for indecently assaulting four other schoolboys at the Franciscan-run Gormanston College in Co Meath where he was sports master and spiritual adviser.

Yesterday at Trim Circuit Court he pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual assault on another schoolboy on dates unknown in 1973 and 1974.

Since his release from jail in January last year he has been subject to what his barrister Hugh Harnett SC said “is a form of imprisonment”, and cannot leave the Franciscan home where he lives in Killiney, Co Dublin, without being supervised.

Mr Harnett said there were specific guidelines for friars who had restricted ministry and Fr Ciaran Cronin, the guardian of the order in Killiney, said Bennett’s, “are the most extreme case we have.”

In reply to Judge Donagh McDonagh, Fr Cronin said that the regime could be altered by one of his (Cronin’s) superiors.

The judge said he would like to hear from the more senior provincial of the order before he passes sentence and adjourned the case until next Friday.

In this case State prosecutor Karl Hanahoe said the offences occurred on a weekly basis over a two-year period when the boy was aged 14 and 15.

He would be summoned to Bennett’s office either over the school intercom system or by a message to the classroom.

The court heard that Bennett would ask the boy if he knew how to seduce a girl and then tell him how to do so. He would open the boy’s trousers, remove his underwear and masturbate him.

Afterwards he would clean him using a handkerchief and put the boy’s clothes back on.

Sometimes he would show him pictures of naked women and once he showed him a picture of a naked man.

Bennett was interviewed about the complaint by gardai while serving a prison sentence at Arbour Hill prison for the other offences.

Yesterday the now adult victim told Judge McDonagh that he made his complaint after reading reports about that other case and and reading that Bennett was originally given a five-year suspended sentence for it.

“It caused me a lot of anger and particularly some of the comments about the [Franciscan] order. The judge in the other case] praised the Franciscan order for acting promptly when they became aware of it [the abuse] . . . I was well aware they did not act promptly.”

The court heard that the DPP had subsequently appealed the suspended sentence and the court of criminal appeal directed Bennett serve 2? years of the five-year sentence; the balance was suspended.

The man also said his confidence was badly affected by the abuse and for a long time he could not go out with girls because their perfume would remind him of Bennett’s smell – a combination of disinfectant and aftershave.

He said he was not not a practising Catholic and was very fortunate that the support group One in Four was able to provide him with psychiatric help.


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